The 2016 NFL season is just around the corner. As such, Sportsnaut will be previewing all 32 teams before the games begin in September. Continuing the series, we stay in the NFC North to provide a Minnesota Vikings 2016 preview.
Here, we’ll be discussing a team that needs to rebound quickly and make up for the devastating loss of Teddy Bridgewater.
Before we look ahead, let’s take a glance at some key developments.
Minnesota Vikings 2016 Preview
Head coach: Mike Zimmer (third season)
Key arrivals: OG Alex Boone, OLB Emmanuel Lamur, RT Andre Smith, FS Michael Griffin
Key departures: OT Phil Loadholt, OL Austin Wentworth, WR Mike Wallace, CB Josh Robinson
1. Can the offense win through the air with Shaun Hill?
Teddy Bridgewater is out for at least the entire 2016 season after dislocating his knee and completely tearing his ACL during practice.
Shaun Hill has been a capable backup throughout his career, but is he good enough to keep the passing game going for an entire year? More than that, is he good enough to keep the young receivers on the team from regressing?
He was fair this preseason, totaling 192 yards on 17-of-25 passing with no touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. For his career, Hill is a 62 percent passer and has thrown 49 touchdowns compared to 30 interceptions.
Hill has never been a high volume passer or touchdown machine. It’s going to be interesting to see how things go without Bridgewater, who was ascending in his third year.
2. Are the Vikings starting to phase Adrian Peterson out of the offense?
Don’t laugh. This really could happen.
All the reports coming out of team headquarters this offseason and into training camp indicate the Vikings plan on going with the shotgun more often this year. And Peterson isn’t a good shotgun running back. Like, at all.
By going to the shotgun more, the Vikings are taking Adrian Peterson out of his comfort zone. 2015 stats here. pic.twitter.com/MLHHOTwPgn
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) July 25, 2016
In addition to struggling to make hay on the ground out of shotgun, it’s well documented that he doesn’t catch the ball well. Everyone, including Peterson, knows this is true. Because of that, he’s been working on his hands this offseason.
“The biggest thing is me just being more patient, and that’s something that you [get by going] through practice reps,” Peterson said, per Matt Vensel of Star Tribune. “That’s something that I was more conscious of last year, and that’ll be an easier transition for me.”
While Peterson generally struggles in shotgun, his backup Jerick McKinnon is quite adept at catching the ball and running out of the formation. This could lead to some uncomfortable shots of Peterson on the sidelines this year while McKinnon runs with the offense more and more.
3. Can the defense carry this team into the playoffs?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years, you know Minnesota’s defense is developing into quite the dominant unit.
Of course, this was the expected result when Mike Zimmer came on board. He’s one of the NFL’s preeminent defensive minds and had worked his magic well in concert with general manager Rick Spielman’s excellent drafting on the defensive side of the ball.
The past couple of seasons, Minnesota has finished with the No. 14 (2014) and No. 13 (2015) defense in the NFL in total yards allowed. The defense came along strong last year, finishing with the No. 5-ranked scoring defense.
At all three levels, Minnesota features game-changing playmakers. Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffin headline the front line, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway represent one of the finest trios at linebacker in the league and safety Harrison Smith leads a talented group of physical ballhawks on the back end.
But can this unit take the next step and become a shut-down defense? Can it carry the team deep into the playoffs? That question has yet to be answered.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver
Last year as a rookie, Diggs showed some serious chemistry with Bridgewater, catching 52 passes for 720 yards and four touchdowns. It could be argued he was a breakout player in 2015, but he should emerge as a consistent weapon this year.
In fact, we could be looking at one of the young stars in the NFL blossoming this year. He only made nine starts as a rookie and will be playing opposite Treadwell from the get-go as a go-to guy to open the 2016 campaign.
“He is a playmaker, and with playmakers like Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Roddy White, you want to give them opportunities to make plays,” said wide receivers coach George Stewart, who has coached them all (h/t Star Tribune). “And that’s what he’s doing.”
Fantasy owners, take note.
Diggs should could eclipse 1,000 yards receiving, barring injury, and he should also be seeing a high volume of passes come his way as the primary receiver in Minnesota’s offense.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
If not for a horrific shank by kicker Blair Walsh in the playoffs last year (watch here), Minnesota would have advanced past the wild card round. And who knows what would have happened then?
Norv Turner knows how to get the most out of his offensive personnel, which is quite impressive all around. It will be even more impressive if Bridgewater does improve.
And on the defensive side of the ball, there is a ton to be excited about. Spielman has loaded the defense with playmakers who create turnovers and stuff the run.
Also, even if Peterson is on the bench a bit more than usual, he’s clearly not ready to lay down and die (check out his physique here). If anything, he’ll be playing with an even bigger chip on his shoulder than usual — a scary thought for opposing linebackers trying to tackle him.
REASON TO DOUBT
The loss of Bridgewater was huge. The offense won’t be nearly as potent.
The last thing Vikings fans want to see this season is more of the same from the passing game. But things could get even worse than they were in 2015.
This team could potentially regress after a breakout campaign in 2015.
Prediction: 9-7, second place in NFC North